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Cutbacks and the Poor; Thistle Farms News/Business. (2010) Opposition to a program in California designed to control welfare fraud; Thistle Farms natural bath and beauty products. (CC) (Stereo)

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  WHUT    Religion Ethics Newsweekly    Cutbacks and the Poor; Thistle Farms  News/Business.  (2010)  
   Opposition to a program in California designed to control...  

    August 15, 2010
    7:00 - 7:30pm EDT  

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coming up a controversial program in san diego, california to prevent welfare fraud. >> i think it's a way of criminalizing poverty. and it is the way of making people feel ashamed of asking for help. nch plus a remarkable program in nashville, tennessee where an episcopal priest helps female drug addicts and prostitutes dramatically change their lives. major funding for "religion & ethics news weekly" is provided by the lily endowment, an indianapolis based private family foundation, dedicated to its founders interest in religion, community development and education. additional funding by mutual of america, designing customized individual group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement
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company.com. also by the henry luce foundation and the corporation for public broadcasting. welcome, i'm deborah potter sitting in for bob abernathy. thank you for joining us. pakistan is grappling with one of the worst natural disasters seen in decades. monsoon floods have already killed more than 1,500 people and more than 14 million lack housing, food, drinking water or medical care. the united nations has launched an emergency appeal for international assistance. religious groups working in the country say they need additional funds to help victims of the disaster. the christian aid group international assistance mission says it will stay in afghanistan despite the murder of ten of its staff members, the taliban claims responsibility for killing the workers, including six americans, accusing them of spying for the u.s., preaching christianity and distributing
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bibles. the mission denied those charges as did secretary of state hillary clinton. >> we also condemn the taliban's transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable by making false accusations about these aid workers' activities in afghanistan. >> in somalia, the militant group has banned three christian aid groups from the parts of the country it patrols. al shall be -- all three groups have signed a red cross code of conduct that prohibits proselytizing. more than 40 religious leaders have condemned what they call the zeno phobia and religious -- signers of the statement include individuals from the national council of churches, jewish funds and others who say they
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support the proposed mosque and it's stated goal of interfaith dialogue, a group opposing the project plans to run this ad with this image of the world trade center on september 11 on new york city busses. a mosque in germany that was once attended by the 9/11 hijackers has been shut down. the tiabbi mosque had remained a recruiting ground and meeting place for islamic radicals. german intelligence had the mosque under observation for years, but this is the first time it's been closed. the current imam has been closely watched since the 9/11 attacks but has never been formally linked to the plot against the youth. in iran, several members of the bahai faith have been sentenced to prison. they have been jail since 2008, they're charged with spying for israel and spreading propaganda against the islamic order. they have denied the charges and
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plan to appeal. same-sex marriages could resume in california next week after a federal judge said he would lift an order suspending them. but the judge who overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage says his decision won't take effect until next wednesday giving opponents time to ask a higher court for a stay. the recession that has forced local governments across the country to cut services has raised a moral dilemma. how does an agency balance the obligation not to waste taxpayers' money with the ethical obligation to care for the poor? lucky severson reports on a long standing program in san diego, california aimed at preventing fraud that has come under renewed attacks by as voe cats for the needy. >> we always are looking for a scapegoat in regards to what the budget crisis is. >> reporter: aida reyes has a master's degree but volunteers all her time for a low-income parental support program called spin, enjoying this
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church-sponsored picnic in a san diego park. >> and who else is easiest ,h scapegoat than the poor people, the people who always is never heard. >> reporter: california has been hit hard by the ailing economy. over 1 million jobs have been lost since 2007. even san diego, advertised as "america's finest city," has seen the numbers of those living in poverty increase to over 300,000. joni halpern is a lawyer who founded of spin. >> i see more homeless, people who've never been poor before. i see those now. people who've lost houses, jobs, cars, people who have never ever expected they would be on public assistance. i see those now, too. >> reporter: even as welfare rolls are increasing, san diego, like local governments everywhere, has been forced to cut programs for those in need like those at this picnic, programs like child welfare.
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advocates for the poor say it is even more difficult in san diego because of the county's unusual and controversial program created to police welfare fraud. it's called project 100%, and it's extremely unusual because it stipulates that a fraud investigator will visit anyone applying for welfare or cash assistance. critics say it treats those in need, like some of the people here, as criminals. county officials say it's an ethical way to save taxpayers money. >> project 100%, do you think it's working? >> absolutely. >> reporter: john haley manages project 100%'s fraud investigators. >> project 100% provides an integrity component to the public aid that goes out to those people in need, and without that integrity program there is no way to insure that the monies go out to those that are actually eligible, deserving, and actually have the need.
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>> it's terrible. i think it's a way of criminalizing poverty and it is a way of making people feel ashamed of asking for help. >> reporter: maria orozco, who now works full time to help those applying for aid, says a few years ago she needed help. when she applied for welfare the fraud investigator came to her house. it was a pretty degrading experience, was it? >> yes, because i mean my dirty clothes, you know, your purse, you know. what if you have something not to be shown or something? >> we do not set up those appointments, we just show up. and we just make sure that all the facts they presented to their case worker are correct. and if there are any allegations of maybe the absent parent in the home or one of the children doesn't actually live at home, then we can ask questions about that stuff.
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so it's not really intrusive. >> this is jasmin's, my sister's bed and her space over here. my mom and my nephew aiden sleep in this bed right here. >> reporter: liliana lives in this tiny two-bedroom apartment with her mom, yolanda, her sister, jasmin, and their two children. >> i love working. i actually miss working. but i went to welfare because i needed the help, because i was laid off and i needed the help from the government, but they make it really hard. >> if we have maybe a t-shirt that might be a man's t-shirt but we wear it, they think that we have a man living here, and since they're not on the application, then they pretend like we're lying or something. i don't know what they look for. >> reporter: bill oswald is an associate professor at springfield college's school of human services in san diego and an outspoken critic of project 100%. >> any inconsistency they might find there, and i could fill this time with stories of inconsistencies, like your application says two adults but there's three adult tooth brushes here, and then when it goes back to health and human
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services they say, "oh, potential fraud," and they deny you benefits. >> it's just another piece of information that we collect. it doesn't mean that they are going to be denied. we have run into cases where the absent parent was reported to be in another state, for instance, and we show up, and they're there at the apartment, and they are actually working somewhere, and there is money coming in that wasn't reported. so that is what we are out there for, just to verify the facts. >> reporter: county officials say their efforts have saved taxpayers millions of dollars, that they have prevented or detected fraud in nearly one out of four welfare applications. but a state audit report earlier this year says that number is not verifiable. bill oswald says project 100% has actually prevented worthy recipients from receiving aid. >> for us it's not the issue that you're checking for fraud. we think that's a reasonable thing to do, because you have to protect the public dollar.
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it's when you create a program that is, makes it difficult to get the benefit and then doesn't demonstrate any benefit to the county or the state or the taxpayer. so we're paying for a program that no one can prove has any impact. >> if we did not have project 100% or the public assistance fraud division or our efforts, then fraud would probably go through the roof, especially with the economy now and the identity theft that is going on-things like that. >> reporter: low-income residents also complain that san diego has also been stingy with food stamps. >> one woman that i helped out last friday applied, waited, waited, waited and finally got a notice in the mail, the notice of action. they're called saying you're denied because you do not want food stamps.
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anything under the sun, it's just unbelievable. >> reporter: hilda chan is a law student at berkley and a spin volunteer who helps parents needing food stamps maneuver through the welfare bureaucracy. >> we are the lowest metropolitan area in the nation five years straight for food stamp participation. we have about a third of people who are eligible, families and individuals who are poor enough to qualify for food stamps. out of all of them in san diego only a third of them are getting them. >> reporter: she says many people think that illegal or undocumented immigrants clog welfare rolls and then receive public benefits. >> you can't get public benefits if you are undocumented. >> reporter: period? >> period. >> the assumption is that they're lazy people, people with no real work value. a lot of times we talk about the culture of poverty, about people who are poor, who cannot delay
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gratify indication. that's generally our image of people who are in poverty and it's been that way for a very long time. >> reporter: oswald doesn't deny that there are cheaters, but he says he thinks that most people like liliana ooerks mother would rather work than take a government handout. >> my mom says that another income we have as he goes around the block, she collects cans to recycle. to wake up at 4:00 in the morning and collect cans on the street is really strong of her. >> i've been in they're homes and i have wrappeded my arms around their family members and i don't see people who don't appreciate the work ethic. they do the crappy jobs that no one else is willing to do and they do it for less than what anybody else is willing to do it for.
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>> you know, as someone who is contributing to this as a tax payer wouldn't you want some kind of assurances that the monies that you're paying and contributing are going to the people that actually need it? we've got to make sure it goes to the right people, and that's the way i look at it. >> poverty is an economic condition, not a moral issue. people are not poor because they have weak characters. they're poor for lots of different reasons, but my experience they're pretty -- the hardest working people i know. >> reporter: for the moms, dads, and kids at this spin homework tutoring section, there is good news. the board of supervisors has finally agreed to take a closer look at project 100%. the bad news is not certain, but the state assembly is considering an emergency budget that would cut state welfare payments even deeper. for "religion & ethics news weekly," i'm lucky severson in san diego. latinos in the united states are no longer as catholic as they used to be. a new poll finds that younger hispanics and those who mostly speak english are much less likely to identify as catholic
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than older hispanics who mostly speak spanish, but almost 2/3 of latinos still call themselves catholic. in nashville, tennessee, an extraordinary episcopal priest has raised millions of dollars to support his community. a vanderbilt university chaplain founded the mag doe lynn community to help women who had once been on the streets to rebuild their lives. he also set up a nonprofit business, this iss thistole far. >> reporter: the women of the magdalene community, now mornings begin quietly, with prayer. >> god grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change. >> reporter: with meditation and expressions of gratitude. >> today i don't feel alone. i know god has got me right where he wants me.
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>> reporter: it is a long way from the violence and addiction they have known. tara adcock, once in and out of prisons, started that life on the streets of nashville at 17. >> my pimp, i was just like his everything. he fed me with crack, bought me new clothes. i didn't know nothing about none of this, and then just one night he said come on i'm taking you and another girl, and she's going to show you the ropes. so he dropped me off right here. i've been dragged up and down this road. i was raped. i hated myself. >> reporter: for 12 years, regina mullis also worked the streets. >> i never thought that i would be in prostitution and an addict. i did it because this man offered me $300 to be an escort at a dinner ball, and he was a doctor, and he sent for me in a limousine, and i was like, if this is what it's about i can do this. but throughout the years, quickly it went from being a $300 escort to, you know, just accepting $5.
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>> reporter: regina has a job now after going back to school and reclaiming her children. she survived, along with tara, with the help of a remarkable program called magdalene started by a somewhat unconventional episcopal priest, becca stevens, a free spirit who not only preaches barefoot at the vanderbilt university chapel but who turned a vision into reality. >> i wanted to create a space that felt like it was healing and luxurious and safe and hopeful for women, so that there would be a space to feel like you could do the work and the healing that needed to happen in your life. >> reporter: what stevens created was a nonprofit organization for female addicts and prostitutes, most who have
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been sexually abused, all who have been raped. by hand, they create natural bath and beauty products -- soaps, balms, candles, all made under the label thistle farms. >> the thistle is the weed or the flower, depending on your perspective, that still grows on the streets and the alleys where the women walk. it has the deepest taproot of any plant, and it can push through two, three inches of concrete. it is a great reminder that all of us, with our prickly outer selves, have this beautiful, deep, rich center that's a gift from god. >> reporter: here they not only pick thistles but crush, moisten, soften and then turn the thistle into paper. with the products and through donations which thistle farms has raised, stevens has opened a residential community of six
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homes where women off the streets are given rooms and food for two years at no charge. stevens takes neither federal nor state money. >> it's great because it keeps you pretty honest, and it keeps you working pretty hard. you know, give us this day our daily bread. be thankful for this day and for all the gifts. i mean, people give to us because they're grateful for all they've been given. >> reporter: here residents not only get shelter but medical help, counseling, and spiritual guidance. >> where is god in this recovery for you? >> reporter: and here faith is a component of healing, but no doctrines are taught. nothing is force-fed or imposed. there is a very spiritual, loving foundation, magdalene graduate katie lynn says, but -- >> they don't push religion on you, so that you can make the choice of your own, because a lot of people such as myself come from a background where i was told that if anything bad i did god was going to get me. >> i think most of the women have pretty strong feelings
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about what their spiritual path looks like, and i'm more interested in encouraging them to have that religious and spiritual voice, where nobody's saying like this is what you need to believe. >> reporter: for the women who come here there is no staff hovering about, no one telling them what to do. what they do get -- something most of them have never gotten before. >> i felt unconditional love. they loved me for who i was, and they wanted to help me through anything, just to get better. >> reporter: at first that environment, that acceptance seemed unreal to tara and shelia mcclain. when she was very small, shelia was repeatedly abused for years. leaving home at 14, getting addicted, at 18 she turned to prostitution. tara and shelia bonded when they were working the streets. >> like we'd go do a trick, a date together, or we'd go to an apartment. >> we were treacherous, okay? >> i would rob and she would -- >> i would flat-back. >> she would flat-back. >> we were treacherous out there
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together. >> reporter: so on a good day you could make how much? >> most days it was easy to make at least $1,000 a day. >> yeah. >> reporter: they both hated it, they say, but neither could break loose. >> after i turned the trick to get a room, i'd feel the degradation hit and then i'd have to buy dope to medicate how i was feeling about just dealing with the trick, and it's a vicious cycle, you know. >> my theory is no woman ended up on the streets by herself. whether it's a failed family, violence experienced early on, she didn't get out there by herself, and so it's crazy to think she's going to come off the streets by herself, you know, out of jail with no provisions. they're going to call their drug dealer to come get them, and it just starts over again. >> reporter: ready for a change, shelia wrote to her judge from prison asking to be admitted to the magdalene program. two years later, she graduated with the judge by her side. she is different now -- clean, owns her own house, is married with two children, and a college
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student. tara, who graduates in december, has also put her drug-ridden past behind. >> there was no judgment. they just want to help you.8.kp you know, and i believe in myself today. >> reporter: assisted on that vanderbilt campus chapel by her grammy-winning songwriter-husband, marcus hummon, the barefoot priest sees the magdalene homes and thistle farms as part of her ministry. >> i'm doing the best that i can to live out my faith as i understand it, and i'm doing it on the path that i have chosen, and i've chosen as an episcopal priest to do this work. >> reporter: her ministry springs partly from sexual abuse she suffered from a deacon in her church when she was just six to eight years old. >> i get some of the recovery issues. i see in my own abuse in my life as in some ways strangely a
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gift, that i learned a lot. it's nothing i would have asked for, but it is a gift, and it's a powerful tool. so i'm a defender of a lot of women, because i know you don't get over that stuff. i have a tenderness for what it does and how it makes you look at the world. >> reporter: through natural products, private grants, and gifts stevens has raised nearly $13 million, with it sending the women of magdalene to visit women in prison. she has also helped fund a school in ecuador and to help establish a business for women's groups in rwanda-abroad and at home demonstrating what she says is the same theme -- >> that love is the most powerful force for social change. that love could be powerful enough to change a life. and what i think it means now is it has changed my life, and i think i'm really different because of the gift of this work.
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i believe that more now than when i started out. >> reporter: what happens at thistle farms and at magdalene seems to be working. 72% of the women who complete the program, says stevens, are clean two and a half years later. and while not everyone embraces the program -- this streetwalker, angie, said she just wasn't ready when her old friends, tara and katrina, urged her to join -- nearly 80 to 100 women are waiting to get in. for those who do graduate from what becca stevens has started, there is exhilaration and pride and a conviction that their lives have been transformed. >> i know that now there is a different way, and i will never go back. never. and a lot of people say you never say never, but i know i will never go back. >> my gift now is to be, now that i'm breathing, is to be able to show other women a way out, and magdalene was that way out for me. >> reporter: a way out where abused women bond sharing simple daily chores, where they grow
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closer helping one another, where, with hands that have known hardship they now make candles which burn sweetly, where the faces change but the circle of healing grows stronger. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," this is bob faw in nashville, tennessee. one of the first americans to become a zen master died last week. robert afkin was 93. he was introduced to buddhism as a captive in a japanese prison camp during world war ii, he later founded a buddhist community in hawaii and became known for his strong commitment to social justice. for muslims observing ramadan, the summer heat has made it challenging to fast from dawn to dusk and that's let to some unusual compromises. in dubai, a religious ruling allows observers to break the fast if it's too hot.
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and on the west bank and gaza, they moved their clock back an hour earlier so they can end their fast. saudi officials hope it will become the official time keeper of the muslim world. that's our program for now. i'm deborah potter, we would like to hear there you, you can follow us on your facebook page. you can also comment on all of our stories and share them, audio and video podcasts are also available, join us at pbs.org. now as we leave you, more music from the vanderbilt chapel service. ♪
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major funding for "religion & ethics news weekly" is provided by the lily endowment, an indianapolis based private family foundation dedicateded to its founders efforts in religion, community development and education. additional funding by mutual of america, designing customized individual and group retirement products, that's why we're your retirement company.com. also by the henry luce foundation and the corporation for public broadcasting.
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